PNG confused over ‘crowds’ mixed messages in face of covid surge

PNG Prime Minister James Marape
PNG Prime Minister James Marape ... apparent disregard for recently reemphasised covid-19 measures that were displayed during this visit to Menyamya. Image: Pangu Pati

COMMENTARY: The PNG Post-Courier

Papua New Guinea is unsure of what message the government is trying to convey over the latest covid-19 pandemic surge — effectively creating a state of confusion.

In the midst of a dire healthcare crisis in the Eastern Highland’s capital Goroka, Prime Minister James Marape recently travelled to neighbouring Morobe Province’s remote Menyamya district to launch projects related to health care among other things.

This would have been truly uplifting given the times, if not for the apparent disregard for recently reemphasised covid-19 measures that were displayed during this visit.

Photos from the event showed hundreds of mask-less people gathered to welcome the arrival of Marape and government MPs namely Minister for Education Jimmy Uguro, Menyamya MP Benjamin Phillip and Morobe Governor Ginson Saonu, making it seem like there was no surge in covid-19 cases affecting the country.

At face value, the project launching and visit by the PM was a typical political event with the big song and dance. But, given the context of the country’s surge in covid-19 cases stressing major hospitals, the event reeked of bad taste.

This comes just as Morobe’s capital Lae has begun clamping down on non-mask wearing persons in the hopes of steering clear of a possible Goroka kind of surge.

The Morobe provincial administration, in a recent joint statement with the Morobe Provincial Health Authority and Northern Command of the Royal PNG Constabulary, instructed that there would be a no mask, no entry requirement for business houses and government facilities.

Conflicting policies
The confusion arises when on one side, Pandemic Controller David Manning, has issued measures banning gatherings of more than 20 people, but on the other side — and as if fully indifferent to the covid-19 orders — the PM is traveling around the country attracting large crowds in excess of 20 people.

In fact, many members of parliament have not slowed down on grand openings and ground breakings since the start of the pandemic, which arguably is acting as a catalyst for spreading covid-19.

Menyamya bad taste
Given the context of Papua New Guinea’s surge in covid-19 cases stressing major hospitals, the Menyamya event reeked of bad taste. Image: @LepaniThierry

In April, this masthead raised the same issue regarding the PM’s official visit to Kikori district in Gulf province.

Six months later it seems not much has changed other than an increase of gatherings from 10 to 20 people.

At the time the Post-Courier reported: “In the official statement from the PM’s office, it stated ‘Thousands of people arrived to welcome Prime Minister Marape and his delegation’.”

But this goes against measure nine – business and social where measure two states: “An immediate ban is placed on gatherings of over 10 people.”

“While the government continues to push the adherence of nuipelapasin, it seems they have failed to implement the nuipelapasin for launchings of projects.”

Criticism on social media
Marape’s recent visit has received criticism on social media, with one person saying:

“This is infuriating to see.

“No wonder people don’t follow niupelapasin if the people making the mandates about it keep hosting events like this!”

Another comment described it as “100 percent irresponsible behaviour”.

On Sunday, the country officially lodged a “request for assistance” with the Emergency Medical Teams (EMT) Secretariat in the World Health Organisation.

The request called on any international EMT capable of assisting to help PNG with the surge in covid-19 cases, another indication of the bad state of the health system.

The request stated: “From September 20-26, there were 600 newly confirmed cases in PNG, including 17 deaths.

Cases, deaths underreported
“New cases and deaths are significantly underreported in PNG due to the very limited testing across the country and inconsistent reporting from several provinces”.

It also stated that PNG has the lowest vaccine coverage in the Western Pacific with less than 1 percent of the population fully vaccinated.

As Parliament resumes yesterday, it was certain that many MPs would also be returning from their districts after launching and attending similar events over the break.

While it may be an important display of their leadership duties, such events are potentially thwarting the efforts of the tired, exhausted and under-resourced doctors and nurses of the country – making the problem worse.

Published by the PNG Post-Courier on its front page today.

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